Lessons from COVID-19

by John Miles, CEO


Sometimes life hands you a difficult blessing.


I work hard to succeed. I’m a big believer in strategic planning. I spend hours pouring over firm and industry data to anticipate problems and identify opportunities. I hold weekly strategy meetings with my executive team to ensure that we keep the firm on a positive trajectory. By most outward measures, my hard work made me successful; however, it also left me with the mistaken belief that I was in control.


Every generation has experienced calamities that upends their illusion of control. COVID-19 pales in comparison to what previous generations have had to endure, nonetheless it has cost the lives of many and the livelihoods of many more. When I left my office on March 23, I was looking forward to a reception to celebrate the opening of our new Atlanta office, the launch of our new Charlotte office, and the expansion of our Savannah office. There had been talk of a possible government shutdown, but I wasn’t concerned. I believed that any shutdown would be short-lived, and we had developed a three-stage continuity plan that would see us through. I was confident I had the situation under control.


Not surprisingly, I believe I have the best team in the business. Talking with the heads of other ADR firms around the country, I’ve learned that we weathered this crisis far better than our competitors. This is due solely to the talent and hard work of my staff and neutrals. That being said, the past two months have been the most stressful and challenging of my professional life. As I write, I believe we have come through the worst of the pandemic, but only time will tell.  We reopened our offices in Atlanta and Savannah, and we’re doing a soft opening of our Charlotte office on June 1, and so far, things have run smoothly.


Suffering can lead to blessing. Trials are inevitable; therefore, it’s a fool’s errand to believe you can avoid them. Additionally, it’s not suffering that defines us. It’s how we respond that matters and has the potential to bless us.


If we aren’t careful, suffering can make us bitter. We’ve all known people who go through a trial only to emerge angry and resentful. I can identify with that because I’ve been angry during this period. My anger flowed from my lack of control. Everything I built over the past 25 years was in danger of evaporating. It didn’t matter how good my team was or how much I’d planned. If this pandemic had lasted until the end of the year, I’d be out of business. It was the first time in my professional life that I had to accept that everything I built could be taken from me. What was going to be and I was powerless to do anything about it. In the past, that realization would have paralyzed me with fear, but this time I found it liberating.


I’ve worked hard my entire adult life, and I’ve enjoyed success, but I can count on one hand the moments that I’ve spent enjoying that success. More to the point, I’ve spent precious little time appreciating the blessings God has given me. I have a loving wife, great kids, good health plenty, to eat, and a roof over my head. I can spend the time God’s given me enjoying life or fretting about what might happen. COVID-19 has freed me from a prison of my own making.


I will still strive to be the best manager I can be, but I will attempt to keep my focus on and appreciate the blessings I’ve been given.



John Miles is the CEO of Miles Mediation & Arbitration. In addition to his executive duties, he mediates high-value and complex matters, on request at a per diem rate. He oversees neutral training and development at Miles.